Jeff Koons is an extraordinary figure: on the one hand, he is accused of lack of taste, on the other hand, they buy him for millions. They say that he is too well off and he became an artist from a broker. In fact, Jeff Koons became a broker in order to allow himself to be an artist. He is accused of insincerity, but is loved for the sincerity of his work. And to love Koons or not to love – everyone will have to decide on their own, but it is simply impossible to pass by him, because he is one of the most expensive and recognizable artists of our time.Jeff Koons was born in 1955 in the US state of Pennsylvania. His family belonged precisely to the famous middle class who bought televisions and “candy” cars. His father was an interior designer, so from childhood the boy had an idea of the American taste preferences of any wealth level and various social strata.
And, in fact, it is the taste and consumerism of his country that Koons will either ridicule or sing in his own work throughout his life. Since childhood, Jeff has dreamed of becoming an artist, and therefore he is actively interested in art. Three artists have become defining for Koons – three pillars, on which Jeff Koons’ work will be based: Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol.
Marcel Duchamp is considered the father of contemporary art, he revolutionized the art world by exhibiting a mass-produced object in a gallery and spawning the concept of ready-made. Duchamp is a very influential figure in art history, and Jeff Koons is one of the many who have been impressed by the Frenchman’s ideas.
Inspired by Duchamp, in 1981, Koons exhibits brand new vacuum cleaners in gallery windows. Placing a vacuum cleaner on a sculpture pedestal, the artist equates utilitarian things with works of art, probably making fun of the art market, where art is treated as a commodity, and the market as such, which our entire world has become.
Koons managed to get to know Salvador Dali personally. When he was 19, he tracked down which hotel in New York Dali was staying at, who at that time was already almost 70. Jeff wrote a letter there and, oddly enough, received a positive answer. He arrived at the hotel, met Salvador in the lobby, asked to visit together an exhibition of the Spaniard and even managed to take a photograph of him. Koons calls Dali’s favorite work The Lobster Telephone. Probably, in 2003 he created his inflatable lobster Acrobat with the idea of an idol in mind.
However, one can trace the deeper influence of Dali on Koons. The series of inflatable objects that made him the most successful and the richest living artist is viewed in a surrealistic context, perhaps, because they look very realistic, like ordinary inflatable rubber animals for a pool, however, of course, they are not.
It is believed that Koons inherited the habit of endowing familiar objects with unusual qualities and meanings from his “teacher”, who is also the main surrealist of the planet. Another important aspect of the works from this series, and indeed of the entire work of Koons, are his childhood memories, as is often the case with artists. He recalls, going door to door, as a teenager, selling candy and wrapping paper.
Jeff never knew who would open the door and whether he would be welcome, but he had to be cheerful, smiling and resilient, no matter what his mood was. This is an important lesson that Koons will remember and embody all his life – it will become a showcase for himself. In fact, his ideal cheerful toys are a reflection of his reality – outside is the best possible version of each of them, albeit with emptiness inside.
The role of a traveling salesman influenced the artist so deeply that he has not parted with it to this day. He grew up in a society where sales and purchases shaped the way of life, worldview, lifestyle and life itself. Koons himself says that commerce is a new religion. Therefore, he decided to lead this flock and personified commerce in the art world with his own person. In his youth, in order to earn money for his work, he became a Wall Street broker.
Using his communication talent, Koons quickly becomes successful selling merchandise. But he does not leave the image of a successful businessman, invariably appearing in public in a classic suit, white shirt and tie.
In general, Jeff Koons inherited the theme of commerce and consumerism from his third hero, Andy Warhol. They both reflect primarily American consumerism with flamboyant, brilliant art that sometimes resembles advertising. Damien Hirst, who is a friend of Koons and one of his biggest collectors, eloquently says that Koons’ works “have all the shit of America and, at the same time, all the good that is in it”.
Another similarity between Warhol and Koons is the art factories. Warhol was the first to delegate the physical embodiment of his ideas to other masters, although now this will not surprise anyone. More than a hundred artists work in the workshop of Jeff Koons, who strictly follow the detailed instructions of the author.
In particular, because of this, as well as because of the presence of permanent wealthy collectors, whom Jeff Koons allegedly serves, and because of his commercial success, he is often reproached for commercialism and accused of being more of a PR or merchant than an artist. But this is precisely where Koons is incredibly organic, because he does not hide his interest in popular culture and its commercial component.
Well-known critic William Fever said, “Blaming Koons for hype is like blaming a fish for being wet.” It is not completely clear whether he is fond of this mass, consumer pop culture and sincerely praises in his art, or this is such sarcasm and a kind of mockery, but it gives the audience the freedom to treat him as our feelings tell us.